2013 Toyota Rav4 is stylish and family-friendly

The 2013 Toyota Rav4 is sleek, highly affordable,

The 2013 Toyota Rav4 is sleek, highly affordable, and features one of Toyota's best designs to date. (Credit: Cars.com/Toyota)

What was once a crossover I'd always recommend but would never be caught driving has changed -- and changed a lot. I'd still suggest the redesigned 2013 Toyota RAV4 to all of my family and friends, but now I'd even drive one too. Most of the big changes are cosmetic, but that's only because Toyota just had to make a good car better.

The 2013 RAV4 not only looks great, but it still offers everything a busy family could want: It's affordable, versatile and has many conveniences.

Driving the redesigned RAV4 feels familiar. It's not a ride that's surging with power, but it's strong and steady like a seasoned workhorse. You may not feel exhilarated behind the wheel, but you'll feel at ease and in control when it comes to maneuverability. Toyota dropped the V-6 engine option on the RAV4, and personally, I was satisfied with the four-cylinder engine. I found the ride in the new RAV4 to be an improvement over the old one.


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The all-new RAV4 starts at $24,145, including an $845 destination charge, but my top-trim RAV4 Limited with four-wheel drive cost $29,969.

EXTERIOR

The changes to the 2013 RAV4's exterior are drastic. The new styling has taken years off the RAV4's appearance, and it's now one of the best-looking compact crossovers in the segment. With dramatic angles and a sleeker frame, it looks modern and ready to stand against its competitors.

Even though the RAV4 lost its outdated boxy shape, which usually makes things a lot roomier, it doesn't call for many sacrifices when it comes to visibility and size. Smaller kiddos will likely need a boost getting in, but adults and teens will find the RAV4 is at a convenient height for entering and exiting it with ease.

A notable exterior change is the spare tire is no longer mounted on the tailgate, a la the '90s. Instead, it's stowed underneath the cargo floor like the majority of vehicles from this decade. The liftgate also opens upward now rather than to the side. I'm probably the only person who misses the swinging door; I found it to be much easier to open with a child on my hip. However, a standard power liftgate with selectable memory height settings is available for families who can spring for the top-of-the-line Limited trim.

My stroller fared much better in the RAV4's cargo area than in other crossovers like the Kia Sportage. Double strollers may be a tight squeeze, but feel free to hit up your local warehouse store or pack the sports equipment in the RAV4. Unless you plan on busting out the measuring tape, you'll likely overlook the inches lost as well.

Driving enthusiasts will lament the loss of the RAV4's V-6 option, but the average family will do just fine with the four-cylinder engine. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder makes 176 horsepower and is tied to a new-for-2013 six-speed automatic transmission, and that was enough for me, whether on suburban streets or the highway. I especially enjoyed the Eco mode as I logged my city miles, welcoming any opportunity to improve my gas mileage. The RAV4 gets an EPA-estimated 24/31 mpg city/highway with front-wheel drive and 22/29 mpg with all-wheel drive. It uses regular unleaded gasoline.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

The RAV4's interior has been completely revamped. When I tested the old RAV4, I knew I was sitting in a new car, but it seemed a decade behind its competitors; the 2013 RAV4 feels up to date and more luxurious.

The 2013 RAV4 has actual design details in the cabin; that's in stark contrast to the bland utilitarian vibe it once maintained. There's still quite a bit of hard plastic in the cabin, but a few upscale details help to soften the interior's feel. My test car had a leather dash, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and faux-leather seats with contrast stitching that enhanced their appearance. I love that the 6.1-inch touch-screen comes standard, which really helps to streamline the center stack considerably. Toyota's Entune multimedia system is optional. The RAV4 also has four cupholders, a center console with USB input, cutouts and bottleholders in each door, and seatback pockets for the backseat.

For families that don't prioritize the aesthetics as much, there are a few details to disclose about the new RAV4. The 2013 model is an inch shorter than the 2012. For my small family of three, the change was barely noticeable. The cabin remains airy feeling, and the legroom is ample. While there's room all around with four passengers, things may get too cozy in this five-seater when a passenger must sit in the second row's middle seat on a regular basis.

One last disclosure for the third-row seekers: It's no longer an option in the RAV4 for 2013. I say kudos to Toyota for keeping things real in a compact SUV; folks in need of a third row should research the Toyota Highlander. Enough said.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

SAFETY

The 2013 RAV4 handles child-safety seats well. It easily fits two safety seats. My husband was able to recline the front passenger seat generously but didn't feel any kicks from our daughter in her forward-facing convertible seat in the backseat. With the room that was available, the RAV4 seems like a great candidate for the rear-facing safety seats as well. Although they were deeply set, the two sets of lower Latch anchors were easily accessible and made installing my daughter's seat virtually painless.

Standard safety features on the RAV4 include front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system, traction control, active front head restraints, a backup camera with rear parking sensors and eight airbags, including front knee airbags and side curtains for both rows.

A blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert is optional. Rear cross-traffic alert has quickly become one of the most valuable features to me in cars these days, and it's also one that is rarely seen in this class. When in Reverse, it will alert the driver if it senses anything behind the car; this is especially great in tight parking lots. All-wheel drive is also optional.

The 2013 Toyota RAV4 has not yet undergone crash tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
 

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